The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress sniffs vote snatch ploy

New Delhi, May 26: The battle for upper caste votes in Rajasthan is on in earnest with the Congress high command today locking horns with the BJP over reservation.

The party central leadership today reacted sharply to the BJP’s proposal yesterday to set up a commission to consider reservation in government jobs for the financially weak among the upper castes.

It is a case of “adopting dilatory and diversionary tactics”, Congress chief spokesman Jaipal Reddy said.

Last week, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot had announced a 14 per cent quota for the economically-weak Rajputs, Brahmins and other upper castes of the state. The state had urged the Centre to effect the necessary constitutional amendment to enable the reservation.

Accusing the BJP of not helping the Gehlot government, Reddy dubbed the rival party’s proposal a ploy to forestall Rajasthan’s move.

Instead of setting up a commission, the Centre could directly take up the constitutional amendment and, if need be, create a commission as part of the amendment process, he said.

Reddy sought to dispel the impression that Gehlot’s reservation announcement was a bid to make inroads into the BJP’s predominantly upper-caste support base in Rajasthan. The Congress, he said, has always supported reservations for the upper castes based on economic criterion.

In 1991, the P.V. Narasimha Rao-led Centre had issued an executive order providing 10 per cent reservation for the economically backward among the upper castes. The order, however, was subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court, he said.

In last year’s election manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh polls, the Congress had promised a similar 10 per cent quota, Reddy said. “The suggestion made by the Rajasthan government is in conformity with this policy of the party.”

The Congress high command’s public endorsement of Gehlot’s proposal is not surprising. For some time, the chief minister has been under pressure from the Social Justice Front, floated by politically influential Brahmin, Rajput and Bania leaders, to secure reservation for the communities.

The Congress has also not forgotten the BJP’s surprise and stunning announcement of granting Jats the status of Other Backward Classes, thus making a dent in the Congress’ traditional Jat votebank in the run-up to the 1999 parliamentary elections.

This time, however, Gehlot has stumped the BJP. The Congress high command is determined not to let the resultant advantage slip away by letting the BJP gain the upper hand with its commission counter-offensive unveiled in Jaipur yesterday.

According to Congress estimates, upper castes and Jats constitute 28 per cent of the Rajasthan population. So the state can look forward to much political heat over the proposed reservation for upper castes ahead of the November Assembly polls.

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